STRONGER THAN BEFORE
THE SINGING LEGEND IS BRAVELY MAKING IT THROUGH HIS DARKEST MOMENTS
How Sir Cliff is rising back up
For a young man who started out emulating Elvis Presley in front of his bedroom mirror, his hair combed into a copycat quiff, Sir Cliff Richard has had an astonishing career.
In the 60 years since he began singing with The Drifters (now The Shadows) he’s had 14 UK number-one hits, 67 top 10s, composed 100 songs and sold more than 250 million records worldwide. He’s also the only singer to have had a number-one single in the UK over five consecutive decades – ’50s to ’90s.
Now 78, the man who says he’ll never retire has just completed a sold-out UK tour. Late last year, he released a new album of original songs – a contemporary collection of powerful, upbeat and heartfelt tunes that also saw him reunited with his longtime friend Olivia Newton-John.
The passion in the album has given him even more motivation to perform after enduring “the most horrible, disastrous thing that’s ever taken place in my life”. He’s referring to the now notorious raid on his home in Berkshire by South Yorkshire police probing a false claim of historic child sexual assault
from the 1980s, and the BBC’s coverage of the raid.
The claim was totally false and the case was dropped in 2016 – but not before Cliff’s name had been dragged through the mud worldwide. The singer was awarded $353,000 for damages, plus an extra $37,000 because the BBC entered its coverage of the event for a “scoop of the year” award. The corporation was fiercely admonished, with High Court judge Mr Justice Mann accusing it of “breathless sensationalism”, blinded, he said, by an obsession to beat the competition.
For the artist born plain
Harry Webb in Lucknow, India, who arrived in England with his British parents at age seven, the new album, RiseUp, represents a highly emotional triumph over adversity.
When he sits down in his suite at London’s Dorchester Hotel to talk exclusively about the highs and lows of his remarkable 60-year career and the BBC scandal, he doesn’t hold back…
Let’s start at the beginning. Did you always believe you could sing?
When my aunts and uncles came round with my cousins, my mum and dad said, “Come on, Harry, show them what you can do, sing for them.” I couldn’t do it. I was too shy. But I remember trying to look like Elvis with a friend, both of us adopting the big quiff (and we always got two helpings of pudding in the school line. Girls were serving the meals and they obviously found that appealing as we stood out from the other boys). At home, I used to stand in front of the mirror miming to Elvis records. Thousands of kids wanted to be like Elvis and just a few of us got lucky.
Didn’t your father buy you your first guitar?
He did. And it was stolen on the last night of my first tour ending in Bristol, before it was paid for. Mind you, it was only 27 quid in 1958. I discovered it would be worth around £632 [$1178] now. He bought it on the never-never. My parents struggled financially when they moved to the UK from India. We lived in a house in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, and I shared a room with two of my three sisters. For a while, three of our main meals a week were hot tea and toast with sugar sprinkled over it. As tough as it was, my sisters and I had no memory of being unhappy.
How important was money to you in those early days?
Money didn’t come into the equation until much later.
What was important was my parents brought me up to respect things and it kept my feet on the ground. I simply wanted to sing and play rock
‘n’ roll. For years I never knew what I was earning. I was surrounded by people I trusted implicitly and they took care of everything financial. I was proud to be able to buy my mum and dad their first house.
Rise Up seems to be a clear message that you’ve put the traumatic events of the past few years behind you…
Andrew Lloyd Webber had said to me, “You’ve got to try to get a song where you can let off steam and say, ‘This is what happened.’” I received a demo of Rise Up from the songwriters Terry Britten and Graham Lyle and I loved that it had such a personal meaning in its lyrics. They let you know that I’ve been through the worst times, the clouds were really dark, but that I was never broken down. It was fantastic and it gave me something I could emotionally put my teeth into.
The strain of the past four years has gone from your face. How do you feel now?
I wouldn’t want it to happen to my worst enemy. In Germany, they pretty well follow King John’s Magna Carta, which says, everybody is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. They don’t name anybody until they’re found guilty. Now, I can’t see why we shouldn’t do that here. And that’s what we’re trying to do, as a group – Paul Gambaccini, Lady Brittan [wife of the late Leon Brittan, who was falsely accused of historic sexual offences] and a number of other people who feel that we can at least ask for anonymity until, or unless, you’re charged.
Usually, if a charge happens, it’s months, if not years, before it goes to court. So there is still plenty of time for people to come forward. And the only time I will believe people who come forward is if they don’t ask for compensation. We live in a compensation nation. The world is a compensation nation. We have lost trust because how do we know when someone’s telling the truth? So there’s a fight ahead and I’m happy to be part of that army. Laws are changed by governments, so if we get a chance to go to Parliament
and talk about it, we will. I’ve already been with Paul and Lady Brittan to the House of Lords. Unfortunately, there was a big meeting on that day, so they only had about 10 lords that were able to come, but they were impressed by what we said. The question is, was it right to name me and put me through four years of turmoil, when all the while I was innocent? The answer must be no! All we are asking for is anonymity until the police have had a chance to investigate.
At the time the BBC ran that news item, they hadn’t started the investigation. Only the accusation had come through. It can take up to two years to investigate. Sometimes longer. And until they have enough to feel they can prosecute, they don’t charge you. I think we should go back to the ruling of Magna Carta. Who in hell changed it anyway?
You duet on a new song with Olivia Newton-John. Will you perform it live together?
I don’t know. We’re thinking of attaching our recording
Everybody’s Someone to a charity that works to stop bullying in schools.
So you feel very strongly about bullying?
I wasn’t bullied, but I saw it happen. Most young kids could have their lives changed by being beaten up in school. Now we have trolls on the internet who are just big bullies. Ugly, uneducated bullies. I guess that parenting has a vital part to play. We are probably the last generation who are lucky enough to have had parents who lived through the war. So therefore, their instincts for survival, for being right, for being good, for being just, would have filtered down into us. It is a much tougher world now and I assume parenting is equally tougher.
So you think parental control today isn’t strong enough?
Yes, because families have terrible problems to deal with. You have single-parent families. How a woman or a man can deal with that situation, I don’t know. No-one means to damage their children, but if you can’t get the right help, that’s what sometimes happens.
Your father was pretty strict in a Victorian way?
Yes, he was a disciplinarian.
Were you ever in trouble with him?
Oh yeah. I often got a clip around the earhole.
You’ve always looked younger than your years. Have you had anything done?
I’ve had a few little injections, but they don’t last. I’ve tried Botox, but that didn’t help me. My eyebrows seemed to drop. I don’t think I need to go under the scalpel. But they can do things now, just by injecting collagen and stuff like that, just
to give you back what you lost. When I’m 100, if I need it done, I’ll have it done! I know I can’t look 18 anymore, so I do what I can. I keep my skin supple with moisturiser and disguise any grey hair creeping through with a light brown tint. The make-up girls on Top of the Pops used to recommend things to me and I’d go and buy a gallon of the stuff. It’s hard work staying in shape.
How do you manage to keep fit and healthy these days?
Tennis. Even on tour. When I’m in Portugal I usually play tennis on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with a professional coach. And I try to force myself into the gym as well. I have a fallen arch on my right foot, but I don’t even know it’s there because I wear special soles in my shoes. I’m in good physical health. I’ve probably gone on every diet there is. I don’t starve myself and I eat three meals a day, but it’s healthy food, so I can have as much as I like without putting weight on.
What about alcohol?
I was a non-drinker until I did
Summer Holiday  because Una Stubbs and all the others in the film would go down to a restaurant on the water’s edge and we’d order our meal and I’d have my fruit juice and they were all having wine. And so one night I tasted it and I liked it. And slowly during the course of that film, I became a drinker of wine.
Do you get drunk?
Not very often, but it has happened. Once in Barbados with rum punches. One’s okay, two’s alright, then… you know, I wake up in the morning and think, “How did I get home?”
Do you ever think about retiring from the spotlight?
No, retirement is not in my vocabulary. If I stopped one day, noone would know. Then if I wanted to come back, I could. It wouldn’t be a “comeback”.
How do you feel when your birthday comes around?
A couple of years before she died, Cilla [Black] was with me in Barbados and she was dreading her 70th birthday. I said to her, “You’re going to wake up the morning of your birthday and nothing will have changed.” There’s a growth and a progression that comes with ageing, nothing we can do about that. So one needs to keep fit and try to keep moving. Friends have told me that their parents had retired and died within a few years. It’s because they’d become couch potatoes. That’s the danger. There’s no need for it. Keep walking. Just keep your body moving and get the joints functioning. If you can’t walk anymore, crawl.
Sir Rod Stewart said recently he had never cooked a meal in his life. Do you cook?
I have had a cook in the past, but I can cook if I was at home and absolutely on my own. For my guests, I get someone to come in and cook. Lunch is easy; we have simple salads, though I never eat tomatoes or chips. And I usually have a glass of wine for lunch, then I might have two or three at night.
I have a housekeeper full-time and I have two gardeners in Barbados and someone to look after the gardens in Portugal, and, of course, a housekeeper.
Did you ever meet Elvis?
I had one chance. I was in America promoting Devil Woman when I remarked to one of the journalists, “No
Elvis, no Cliff Richard.” He said, “Would you like to meet him, as I’m a friend of his?” But I knew Elvis was not in a good state at that moment, having put on a lot of weight. I just kept thinking to myself, whenever he made a movie, he got off everything, slimmed down and looked like the old Elvis again. So I said,
I’d rather wait because if I was going to have a photo of us on my fridge door, I’d like Elvis to be as he was... my inspiration, the man that changed my life. Then, of course, Elvis died.
Now, I look back and it was one of the most stupid things I ever did.
If you want to meet someone and get the chance to, go and meet them.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re too fat or too thin. Just so you can say you met the person who meant so much to you. I regret saying no.
Did you ever imagine your career would have such longevity?
I could never have imagined that. In the very early days, the rock ‘n’ roll world was kind of written off as one-hit wonders with headlines saying, “Here today, gone tomorrow.” Suddenly
I’m doing my 60th anniversary tour. I didn’t think I’d reach 60 as an age, let alone have a career that old.
The pop star (at home with his mother and sisters in 1964, right) has fond memories of his childhood,even though money was tight.A former teen sensation, Cliff wasstill topping the charts in the ‘90s.
With his coiffed hair and slick dress sense, a young Cliff channelled his singing idol Elvis at every opportunity. Cliff (second fromright) with The Drifters in 1959.
Friends for more than 40 years, Cliff and Olivia have reunited for a duet on his new album.